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Dentist Scientist Pathway to Independence Award

Research Training and Career Development Branch
Division of Extramural Activities


The purpose of the Dentist Scientist Pathway to Independence Award program is to ensure that dual degree dentist scientists receive sufficient mentoring and protected research time necessary to allow them to successfully transition to independent research careers, and to encourage dental schools to take advantage of the availability of dentist scientists who have the skills and desire to focus on research.


Because of the critical need for dentist scientists to engage in oral, dental and craniofacial research, NIDCR has invested in creating a new cadre of dual degree dentist scientists.  This community of DDS/PhDs possesses unique knowledge and expertise necessary for successful implementation of the NIDCR strategic plan, which states that it is important to maintain “a critical number of investigators with intimate knowledge of the uniqueness of the orofacial structures and the diseases that affect them.”  However, newly trained DDS/PhDs are finding it difficult to secure tenure-track research faculty positions and to compete successfully for independent NIH funding.  Reasons for this difficulty are complex, tied to both the training and career pathway and to the limited opportunities in dental schools. 

Most dental schools are organized according to a clinical specialty departmental model, and thus have historically tended to recruit dentists who have specialty certification. For this reason, most dentist scientists, upon completion of the dual degree training, immediately pursue clinical specialty training rather than rigorous postdoctoral research training.  While the clinical training enhances their ability to obtain dental school faculty positions, the lack of dedicated postdoctoral research training often prevents them from becoming competitive for research-intensive positions and independent NIH research grants.

At the same time, dental schools have limited funding for research and there are relatively few dedicated tenure-track research positions to offer to this increasing pool of new dual degree dentist scientists.

The proposed transition award, based on the NIH K99/R00 model, would rearrange and focus the research training and career pathway by offering funding for recent dual degree dentist scientists to spend two years in a mentored dedicated research postdoctoral training position, followed by an independent phase.  Like other NIH transition awards, this independent phase would require appointment to a tenure-track faculty position with at least 75% protected research time. 

This proposed program would differ from the standard K99/R00 in two significant ways:  

  • Eligibility would be restricted to dentist scientists who hold dual dental and research doctorate degrees.  The degrees could be earned jointly, as in a DSTP training program, or separately, but the most recent doctoral degree must have been earned no more than five years prior to application.  The mentored postdoctoral phase would be required to last two full years.

  • If the dentist scientist awardee accepts a position in a dental school for the independent phase, the dental school would have the option to provide clinical specialty training.  In order to protect at least 75% research time, the clinical training could not occupy more than 25% of the awardee’s total effort, resulting in the need for the specialty training to be spread out over a longer period of time.  Accordingly, NIDCR would extend the independent phase up to five years, and the total award period for both phases could last up to seven years.

In addition to benefiting the individual awardee, this proposed program would provide an incentive for dental schools to hire dentist scientists to conduct research, and to increase the number of research faculty positions, by providing adequate funding for salary, research resources and some start-up costs, as well as providing full indirect costs.


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This page last updated: February 26, 2014